MYTHIC THEMES CLUSTERED AROUND:
KORE / PERSEPHONE
The Greek series, "Mythic Themes Clustered
Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena,
Centaurs, Demeter, Persephone,
Hecate & Other "Dark" Goddesses, Icarus, Medusa & Pegasus, Pan
[others are forthcoming]
28 November 2006 --
Author's Note:For several years I have been thinking and writing about Kore / Persephone -- Kore being her maiden-manifestation, Persephone being her form as Lady of the Underworld. Some of my thoughts are on my Winter Solstice pages for 2004-2005, and this year, 2006. Others are in private writings. Tonight, I decided it was time to take portions of this material, add additional artwork and outside links, and give them their own page in my section on ancient Greece.
So, I begin with Kore, the "Maiden"...
© Greg Spalenka -- used with his kind permission
Kore's story is familiar: a young maiden is playing with other youthful goddesses in a meadow when she sees a dazzling flower -- some say a white narcissus, others a yellow crocus. Unable to resist its beauty, she reaches for it, and in that moment her life changes forever.
The story woven around this event involves Hades (Rome's Pluto, whose name means wealth, riches), an abduction, a forced marriage, a grieving mother (Greek, Demeter; Roman, Ceres) who turns the earth barren in her rage when she learns the truth, and a settlement that would have allowed Kore to leave Hades' Underworld forever --
-- except that she ate a few pomegranate seeds when she was with him. Eating even a morsel of food in the Underworld gives that realm a claim on one. And thus, although Kore will be able to spend at least two-thirds of the year with Demeter, she is doomed to spend the wintry third of the year with Hades.
Curiously, there seem to be no ancient passages describing what Kore does during her eight months with her mother -- it seems like a settlement on paper only. We do know, for example, that she still seems to be in the Underworld when Adonis is born in the springtime in distant Arabia. It is Aphrodite who finds the exquisite child, falls in love with his beauty, places him in a closed basket, and sends him to Kore/Persephone for temporary safekeeping. If Persephone were out roaming the springtime fields with her mother, which is what she should be doing according to the settlement with Hades, the infant would be no safer with her than with Aphrodite. So, presumably, Persephone receives the baby in her own Underworld residence, where he will indeed be safe -- safer than anywhere on earth.
She too, however, falls in love with the child and later refuses to relinquish him. So she and Aphrodite have to come to a settlement, similar to her own with Hades. Persephone will have the child four months a year (it is unclear which four), Aphrodite will have him for another four, and he will have four to himself -- although by the time he matures, Aphrodite persuades him to spend his own four with her as well (the arrangement is short-lived: as a rising/dying/rising vegetation deity, Adonis is killed by a wild boar in his youth, but that is another story).
There is an additional example in which Persephone seems to be in residence in the Underworld in the spring instead of with Demeter. In this myth, Hades is overcome with lust for a beguiling nymph named Minthe. His seduction was already well underway when Persephone suddenly appeared and turned the nymph into sweet-smelling mint. Since this is a mythic attempt to explain the origins of mint, and since mint is at its sweetest and most tender in the spring, we can assume that the watchful Persephone was nearby in the Underworld and not off in some distant region enjoying her mother's company.
There is always a story. It catches our interest, stirs our imaginations, and becomes a key to our own inner soul-scape. But if we strip away the drama and highly charged emotions in Kore's story, what remains? Little things, simple things -- a girl moved by the beauty of a flower, an opening in the earth that swallows her up, and a red pomegranate that holds her there.
Clearly, that rich, dark, moist, earthy realm of wondrous life is already her own -- Kore's, the Divine Child-form of the older Persephone.
Emerging on a newly patriarchal earth with a male-dominated Olympian dynasty in charge, I think she forgot who she was. That tempting early spring flower, whether crocus or narcissus, does not grow from wispy seeds. It grows from thick, burgeoning bulbs buried in the earth the autumn before and sprouting like magic, sometimes even before the snows have fled. In some mysterious way, Kore must have planted that bulb to remind her, when the time was right, of her true identity. When she sees it, it is with the delight of an artist seeing her own handiwork and rejoicing in its wonder. Of course she reaches out for it.
Perhaps Hades was introduced into the story to give it gravitas and a touch of the perverse. He did usurp the kingship of the Underworld when the Greeks conquered the earlier peoples of the region, but he is of no further concern to us. Demeter too, for all that her sorrow and rage express the true depths of grief and offer us a psychologically profound pattern for containing our own, is no longer our concern here. It seems that Demeter was never meant to have Kore for long. Her responses shape her own story, not her daughter's.
The flower shows Kore her true path. She belongs where deep roots begin, where stout bulbs quicken into fragrant frailty, and grain germinates. Like an artist in love with her palette, here she can exult in the deep red dyes of the pomegranate, a dense, moist fruit filled with hundreds of rich seeds, as is Persephone's realm itself. When she bites into the seeds of that womb-fruit and eats them, she knows she is home again, at last.
Thus, Kore joins the other sacred children from many ancient traditions who, in finding their own paths, reveal our own. Hers is a realm where a heart can beat with grateful trust, not worry -- with lightness, not despair.
Unlike Kore, sometimes we have long known where wondrous bulbs and juicy pomegranate seeds may be found. It might be exploring our creativity, following a new course of studies, welcoming someone special into our life. Our bulbs and seeds take millions of forms. Yet we may hold back from reaching out because we don't think we have time, or we are too tired, or we feel unworthy. We must be careful lest such attitudes draw a dark story into our lives -- illness, chaos, rejection, disaster. Any of these can turn us into the victimized Kore of androcentric Greek myth. Instead, may we reach out with delight and find our own way into where we too are home, at last.
Next, we move from Kore to Persephone's Root cellar -- the place where all life begins, where calm, skillful Persephone tends her roots, seeds, tubers, and bulbs.......
© Greg Spalenka-- used with his kind permission
Clearly, this is not the Persephone we know from Greece's patriarchal male-fantasy of an abducted rape-victim, but the Persephone of a much more ancient, pre-Hades time, a time when she was the true and only sovereign of the Underworld's wealth and riches.
I envision her cellar full of dark umber tones, a womb-like place of trailing roots and sleeping plants everywhere -- on rustic wooden shelves, in big pots on the floor, and in more pots hanging from unseen heights. There'd also be bags of seeds-of-light shining in dark corners, and baskets full of autumn squash, apples, pomegranates, and nuts. A few rays of sunlight would enter through chinks in the rock-ceiling, or perhaps through a high window. Persephone would be dressed in burgundy or umber wool in a simple medieval style. She would be tending her plants, her sleeves rolled up, out of the way, as she worked. It would be Her realm, a warm dark space where she readies her plants for a distant spring. There would be no Hades here.
In Persephone's root cellar there are many seeds -- wild mustard seeds, seeds of hope, of promise, of love, seeds of tolerance and blessing, seeds-of-Light. We can't ignore the patriarchies raging around us, but as so many millions of us sense, their time is ebbing. We must survive this tumultuous winter of androcentric warring, no matter how long it lasts, and ready the seeds for spring.
Kore / Persephone:
Pinax of Persephone and Hades seated on their thrones.
Italy: 5th century BCE from Locri in Calabria
Museo Nazionale Della Magna Graecia in Reggio di Calabria
[From Wikipedia's "Persephone" entry -- see below]
This is a wonderful, scholarly, introductory page to Persephone -- her parentage, offspring, favorable moods, wrathful moods, her role as sculptress of the first man out of clay (from a little-known myth), general myths, cultic traditions, and much, much more. It is well-presented by Aaron Atsma's Theoi Project.http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Persephone.html
This is another rich Theoi page on Persephone - this time in her goddess-mode. It is filled with art, wide-ranging data, and ancient references. The thoroughness and user-friendly organization are impressive. Atsma writes:http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/HaidesPersephone1.htmlThis page contains hymns to the goddess, as well as descriptions of her various divine functions, her sacred plants and animals, and her religious and poetical titles and epithets.
Again from Aaron Atsma's Theoi Project site come English translations of both Greek and Latin sources describing the rape, abduction, and return of Persephone. Clickable thumbnails of ancient art are also included as well as other related Theoi links. Atsma writes:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PersephoneThis page describes the Greek versions of the tale, beginning with an abbridged version of the celebrated Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which is followed by several minor versions such as that of Diodorus Siculus, ancient summaries, and other odd references.
The oldest version of the story sets it in the environs of Eleusis, near Athens. Later authors, especially the Greek-Italians, set the story in the fields of Sicily. The Argives and Kretans, in local cult stories, also claimed to possess the site of the Rape or Return.
I never had much respect for Wikipedia when I first began my Myth*ing Links site in 1998. The entries seemed shallow and too brief. But this entry by an unknown author on Persephone is an excellent entry-level introduction. Here, for example, is a passage touching on the fear she aroused in the ancients because of her connection with death. (I would note that the Greeks compartmentalized their goddesses and thus relegated Persephone to death alone, forgetting that she is also Lady of Earth's life-giving "Root Cellar," watering and tending her plants below ground.)http://www.pantheon.org/articles/p/persephone.html...In a text ascribed to Empedocles describing a correspondence between four gods and the classical elements, the name Nestis for water apparently refers to Persephone. "Now hear the fourfold roots of everything: Enlivining Hera, Hades, shining Zeus. And Nestis, moistening mortal springs with tears".Here is another passage from a hypertexted page on the nymph Menthe, turned into mint by Persephone to prevent Hades from seducing her:
Of the four gods of Empedocles' elements it is the name of Persephone alone that is taboo, for the Greeks knew another face of Persephone as well. She was also the terrible Queen of the dead, whose name was not safe to speak aloud, who was named simply "The Maiden". In The Odyssey, when Odysseus goes to the Underworld, he refers to her as the Iron Queen. Her central myth, for all of its emotional familiarity, was also the tacit context of the secret initiatory mystery rites of regeneration at Eleusis, which promised immortality to their awe-struck participants — an immortality in her world beneath the soil, feasting with the heroes beneath her dread gaze (Kerenyi 1960, 1967)....In Ancient Greece, mint was used in funerary rites, together with rosemary and myrtle,The article uses good sources and hypertext as it looks briefly at the abduction myth; modern scholarship on Persephone; "Persephone before the Greeks?"; life-death-rebirth; consorts/children; the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica account of the myth; and various notes and references.
and not simply to offset the smell of decay; mint was an element in the fermented barley
drink called the kykeon that was an essential preparatory entheogen for participants in
the Eleusinian mysteries, which offered hope in the afterlife for initiates. (Kerenyi 1967).
"Fate of Persephone"
Walter Crane (1845-1915)
From Encyclopedia Mythica comes a brief entry-level article on Persephone by Micha F. Lindemans. Like Wikipedia, this page offers useful hypertexted entries associated with the myths.http://www.thaliatook.com/koretale.html
This is artist Thalia Took's retelling of the "Kore Tale." I hate what she does with the flower episode but other aspects are really wonderful and full of dark, rich insight. A few examples:http://www.paleothea.com/SortaSingles/Persephone.htmlI am the dark core within the brightness, the single seed of winter hidden in summer's warmth, that one tiny shard, icy and sharp, kept close against the heart.
I think I have always been this way, though my mother does not see it --even as a girl I hid it from her, and played in the sunshine with the other maidens....
...From the dark ground burst the dark King, who snatched me up and stole me away to his grave Realm, deep within the earth. Was I surprised? Only a little. Did I scream, cry, rage
over the injustice of it? Hardly. I know Fate when I see Her.
I also knew that my mother would weep for me. Let her.
And in the deep cold of my bones, I knew it was inevitable that she find me.
I knew this, and I knew she would never hear me, were I to tell her my desires. It has always been this way. We are simply too unalike, my mother, her hair shining like summer, her mind all flowers and seeds and warmth....
...Six seeds of the blood-red pomegranate, and I am Queen.
Let my mother rail against that! She knows the Law full well, as do I.
My mother called me Kore, Maiden, Girl, but my name is first Persephone, Destroyer of
Light. For I am both my mother's daughter and my mother's mother, after all; and the
shadows are my true home.
Persephone reaching for the flower
© Kris Waldherr
(see site directly below)
This is a lively, sort of Valley Girl-hip re-telling of the myth by "Ailiathena" with several fine illustrations (see above). Here's a passage that will give you a good idea of her breezy style -- it's about how Persephone leaves the other young nymphs and goddesses in the meadow and sets off on her own:...I mean, after all, there's only so much time you can spend with a bunch of seriously sugar-y girls. So off she goes. It didn't SEEM like anything was wrong. The sun was shining bright and the flowers were blooming perfectly. But clearly we aren't looking in the right place for a portent. I'll clue you in: it was among the flowers. Yeah, there were violets and roses and crocuses and lots of other things that never actually bloom at the same time, but there were also narcissus. And as you may remember from other myths (or, more likely, you don't), the narcissus is not a happy flower. Nope nope nope. Just so's you know, some people say that the narcissus was the portent of deathly type stuff because of its narcotic capabilities - but there's other reasons, too. So there she is, and as she leans over to pick the narcissus, the earth opens and Hades, the Lord of the Underworld jumps out. Okay. Let's take a moment out and understand WHY King Dead is coming up like so many daisies....To be honest, the purist in me is not thrilled with a Valley Girl-Persephone, yet I also have to admit that I chuckled quite a lot as I read this essay. King Dead?! Well, why not? <smile>
From the University of Victoria in Canada's British Columba comes Laurel Bowman's fine collection of images focused on Persephone. She introduces them with this statement:http://web.uvic.ca/grs/bowman/myth/gods/persephone_t.htmlPersephone is the Queen of the Underworld and the daughter of Demeter. She is also known as Proserpine (Roman), and Kore, which is also transliterated as Core or Cora and translated as the Maid or the Maiden. Her attributes in iconography can include a torch, a crown, a sceptre, and stalks of grain.
Finally, again from Laurel Bowman is a collection of ancient texts relating to Persephone's birth, domain, marriage/rape, and encounters with visitors to her realm. The links for these texts go to the respected Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University. The day I tried them, they were very slow-loading and several refused to load at all, but at least the references are there if you wish to dig further.
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